A flight nurse, sometimes referred to as a transport nurse, is an RN who is specially trained to provide medical care to patients during aircraft transportation. As part of a team that usually includes flight medics, physicians, and other medical providers, flight nurses board helicopters, rescue flights and more to give medical attention to injured or ill patients in emergency situations. These nurses must keep patients stable until the aircraft arrives at the proper healthcare facility. Flight nurses work in both civilian and military environments.
Flight nurses must first earn their nursing degree and become licensed as an RN. Beyond that, most employers want at least a few years of hands-on experience as an RN, especially in emergency or trauma settings. In some instances, international travel may be involved, so prior flight experience and a valid passport may be required.
A typical flight or transport nurse job description can include any of the following:
- Minimum of 5 years of experience in ICU/ED/Trauma
- Ability to work autonomously in a confined space with other team members
- Advanced critical care knowledge including ventilator experience
- Fitness ability for the physical requirements of the job
- Ability to work varied shifts including overtime and 24/7 on-call rotation
- Strong leadership skills and ability to communicate and work with a variety of people, often in stressful situations
- Flight experience preferred
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What Are the Education Requirements for Flight Nurses?
Flight nurses can earn their nursing degree via a 2-year ADN or 4-year BSN program. Upon graduating, they must pass the NCLEX-RN in order to become licensed. Some flight nurses find it valuable to continue their education by earning an MSN degree. RNs looking to break into flight nursing are advised to start their careers in emergency or ICU units to gain the critical care experience needed to become a transport nurse.
Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?
Many healthcare employers prefer flight nurses to have a few certifications to be eligible for hire. The first is the Certified Flight Registered Nurse (CFRN), which is open to RNs with unrestricted licenses. While at least 2 years of flight nursing experience is recommended prior to taking the exam, it is not a requirement. The CFRN credential is valid for 4 years. Aside from this, flight nurses are usually expected to have the following certifications:
- Basic Life Support (BLS)
- Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS)
- Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS)
- Transport Professional Advanced Trauma Course (TPATC)
- Certified Emergency Nurse (CEN) or Critical Care Nurse (CCRN) strongly preferred until CFRN certification is completed
Flight nurses can work in civilian or military environments. Civilian flight nurses usually work for hospitals or private medical transport companies. They can also be employed by the federal government, fire departments, or organizations focused on search and rescue operations. On the military side, flight nurses may work overseas or in the reserves.
Flight nurses are responsible for providing efficient quality care to patients who need to be transported via aircraft. They may assess illness or injuries and devise a plan to provide the appropriate treatment needed to get the patient to his or her destination safely. In a non-trauma situation, they may collect and keep track of paperwork and physician instructions for the duration of the flight and in some cases may provide assistance to the pilot. Because medical aircraft is often utilized in emergency situations such as accidents, fires, or rescue endeavors, flight nurses must be prepared to administer first aid and ventilation procedures, assist with getting patients into the aircraft, and ensure that the gurney is safely secured once inside. Once onsite at the hospital or destination, transport nurses must carefully unload patients and brief the receiving medical staff on the patient's condition.
What Are the Roles and Duties of a Flight Nurse?
- Provide immediate medical care to patients needing air transport, including assessment, triage, and treatment
- Organize and maintain patient charts and paperwork
- Provide first aid, insert IVs, perform resuscitation, and more en route to destination
- Maintain supplies and equipment on aircraft
- May assist the pilot with radio communication or other tasks
- Assist in getting patients into and out of the aircraft safely
- Ensure that the patient is safely secured onboard
- Monitor vital signs
- Communicate effectively with team members and patients
Flight nurses are one of the highest-paying nursing specialties in the field and can expect to earn between $50,161 and $95,605 annually. The median annual salary for this type of nurse is $68,050. Exact salary amounts depend on location, experience, and type of employer.
With nursing a growing field in general, flight nurse employment outlook is good. While there isn't a huge amount of turnover with this type of position, new private companies are emerging and looking to hire nurses into the specialty. Nurses who enjoy providing emergency care and want a more dynamic environment than a hospital or medical office will be successful in transport nursing.